How's Your Stuff?
STRESS MANAGEMENT / OUR RESPONSE TO VARYING WORKLOADS
- Identify workload performance problems (overload/under-load, distractions, & stress)
- Develop methods to respond to those problems
Stress is defined as any activity that requires us to cope. To the extent that stress becomes unmanageable, it becomes distress and can result in anxiety or illness. In this sense, stress equals the demands being made on us minus our coping skills. Two of the most common stressors are:
• Lack of time • Lack of ability, knowledge, or information
• Heat/Cold • Noise • Lighting • Danger
• Personality conflict • Mistrust • Lack of support • Poor communication
• Type-A behavior • Illness • Inner conflict • Hereditary traits
• Family problems • Financial concerns • Pressure from friends • Personal interests
• Role conflict • Job ambiguity • Underwork/overwork • Changes • Travel
Now think about all the additional stress typical in your job. Some possibilities are shift work, not knowing what the schedule will be, away from home for long periods of time, long days or nights, noise, temperature extremes, time zone changes, etc.
Effects of Stress
Navy studies have shown that people with the following stressors are more likely to be involved in a mistake or accident:
Major career decision
Difficulty with interpersonal relationships: Superiors/peers
If a stressful situation is having a strong impact on you, it is important to be honest with yourself about the effects of stress on your ability to effectively or safely do what is required of you. If the stress is significant enough, try to find a replacement until things are back under control. At the very least, let others know of your situation so they can support you and keep an eye on you!
Reducing Team Stress
While many companies have been downsized and people seem to be wearing many hats today, much of the stress experienced in the workplace comes from each other, not from the work itself. By instituting three simple rules we can drastically reduce the perceived stress in any work environment.
1. Don't talk to anyone about a problem unless that person can help fix it.
People often spend a lot of time telling others about their problems. This results in a growing feeling of despair and stress. While everyone needs one friend to share their problems and frustrations with, resist the urge to share frustrations with everyone.
2. Determine who can help solve your problem.
The first step in solving a problem is to decide who is the best resource to help with that problem.
3. Ask for help.
Once the best person to help you solve a problem is identified, resist the temptation to dictate what needs to be done. State the problem clearly and ask for help. Give the person time to analyze the situation and determine the best solution. Often the ultimate solution is not what you anticipated.
Mistake Accident Zone Model
The key is to recognize when we are near or in "The Mistake/Accident Zone" and do something to get out of it. The two alternatives are:
• Reduce our workload/stress level
• Increase our capacity to handle our workload/stress level
Managing High Workload
Once you become aware that a high workload is affecting your performance, determine which of the following approaches you can use to improve the situation.
Critical items requiring immediate attention
Important items requiring action as soon as possible
Routine items that can be left until later
Expand time available
Awareness of High Workload Symptoms
Are you entering the Mistake/Accident Zone? If you become aware of any of the following symptoms, you are probably in or near the Mistake/Accident Zone.
• Difficulty achieving good performance • Tunnel vision, fixation on one problem
• Uncertainty, indecision, discomfort • Communication problems
Awareness of Low Workload
Some of the same symptoms described for overload appear during low workload, along with inattention or drowsiness. It may not be practical to maintain peak alertness by everyone all the time, but it is important to regain a minimum level of attention during non‑peak phases when these symptoms appear. Possibilities for raising alertness levels include checking parameters or reviewing the next task.
I'M SAFE Checklist
As you can see from the Mistake/Accident Zone Model, it is important to be aware of our capacity to deal with stress. I'M SAFE is a simple checklist to determine if we are ready and fit to do our job.
Are you sick?
Taking any medicine?
Any stress...good or bad?
Any alcohol or drugs...how much...when?
Eaten enough...too much?
The AESOP™ Model is very effective as a mind-jogger to ensure that important factors are not inadvertently overlooked. Use AESOP™ at each stage of planning or completing a task to make sure you take into account each factor.
Do you have a clear understanding of what you are supposed to do? What potential problems do you foresee? Is there enough time?
What is available to assist you in this task? Is it appropriate? Is it working properly?
The actual risk is usually greater than the sum of the risk elements. The last step is to assess the overall situation and determine the best course of action.
Are there any obstacles to completing this assignment with this equipment?
Who is necessary to complete this task? Are they available? What is their experience level?
Use I'M SAFE to assess the training, experience, health, stress, fatigue and workload of the people working on the task.
The key to dealing with distractions is an ability to maintain a focus of attention. Typically the following options are available.
During critical periods, do your best to ignore distractions you can't do anything about.
Some distractions can wait. Evaluate their importance in conjunction with other priorities and act accordingly. This is especially true of hallway meetings. When you see someone you have been trying to reach all day, it is very tempting to quickly say what you want.
Although this may seem like an effective way to conduct business, many times it results in miscommunications and dropped assignments. Try to avoid relaying any but the most simple message in hallway meetings.
Instead, ask the individual when would be a good time to get together. If someone tries to start a hallway meeting with you, say you are in the middle of something and set a definite time to get back together.
When distractions interfere with the completion of your task, consider delegating the work to other team members if possible.
When a distraction requires immediate attention, it is important not to end up making a mistake in what you are currently working on.